What would Elmore do?
That's the question Graham Yost (Boomtown) kept asking himself while creating Justified, the new FX drama based on one of Elmore Leonard's characters, Deputy Marshal Raylan Givens.
"It sounds so cliché in Hollywood to say I've always been a big fan of Elmore Leonard, but it's true," Yost tells TVGuide.com. "I always loved his writing, his approach to his characters, the humor, the danger, the tension, the sudden violence. It just all appealed to me. And I liked Raylan Givens."
Givens appears in two of Leonard's books — Pronto and Riding the Rap — and the short story "Fire in the Hole" on which Yost, the series' executive producer, based the pilot. Leonard's work has inspired such big-screen hits as Out of Sight, 3:10 to Yuma and Get Shorty.
The Givens character that Leonard created on the page — a modern-day lawman with a Wyatt Earp sense of justice — is very much intact in Yost's show, which debuts tonight at 10/9c. It was Givens' anachronistic qualities and the opportunity to break from TV's current obsession with antiheroes that stood out to Yost.
"I thought it would be fun to do a character who, while he may have shadows lurking from his past and his own issues to deal with, nevertheless is a true-blue hero," Yost says. "He's not a traditional action-show kind of hero. He doesn't yell; he doesn't come in guns blazing. He's very laconic and low-key because he's very confident in what he can do. Like Elmore does, he sees the humanity in the bad guys. He may still want to put them away, but he can talk to them."
Inhabiting Givens' skin is Timothy Olyphant, who knows a thing or two about playing an old-school lawman from Deadwood. But make no mistake: Olyphant's not playing Seth Bullock.
"I like the hat better on this one," Olyphant jokes. "The fact that this show has a better hat than Deadwood is enough to make me want to tune in, because that hat in Deadwood was a pretty cool hat."
Olyphant's Givens is a man with a code: He only pulls his gun when he intends to kill. And he always pulls second. When that way of thinking leaves behind too many bodies in Miami, Givens' superior sends him back to the small coal-mining town in Kentucky where he grew up. And from where he escaped after living with a father on the other side of the law — one of Yost's diversions from the source material.
"I decided to explore, for the sake of the series, how this guy became this man out of time who wears a cowboy hat and ... has affected this old-time marshal persona," Yost says. "Oftentimes when people chose to go into law enforcement, it's sometimes a reaction to growing up in a life that lacked that order and was more chaotic. So his father was a career criminal and his choice to be a marshal was a reaction to that. That's what Raylan was running from when he left Kentucky all those years before and what he has to face now that he's come back."
Also awaiting Givens is childhood friend Boyd Crowder (The Shield's Walton Goggins) and Givens' ex-wife, Winona (Hung's Natalie Zea). The former is now blowing up churches in the name of white supremacy and the latter has remarried. His dealings with both will put his code to the test throughout the season, Yost promises.
But will his code ever change? "That's something we're exploring," Yost says. "That's the nature of the job, especially if you have played it the way Raylan has. Not only are you going to question yourself, but other people are going to be questioning you, and you've got to come to terms with that. He doesn't pull his gun and shoot in every episode: He figures other ways out, and those are equal triumphs for him."
"He's just trying to do the right thing," Olyphant says. "He's a guy who will give somebody 24 hours to get out of town before he has to kill them. But at the same time, he also believes you don't go into someone's house unless you're invited. He thinks what he's doing is right, and he doesn't understand why anyone would take any issue with it."
FX Shoots to Kill with Justified
What would Elmore do?